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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Living the Leadership Launch

Living the Leadership Launch

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            K-12 school leaders have an incredible opportunity this time of year – To rededicate themselves through their own reinvention in the noblest profession on earth, while making a difference in the lives of children. 
Toward this end, I offer the following as thoughts on how leaders might consider “living the launch” of a new school year and enhancing their positive imprint upon it.

Leaders might consider prioritizing relationships over tasks as they meet and greet both staffs and students.  If leaders have hired well, the tasks will take care of themselves.  The more leaders read from lists, the less they are leading and the more they are devaluing those around them.
Leaders might consider celebrating and prioritizing their roles as managers – those who focus inside the organization and take care of their people.  Those who join-in on the fashionable criticism of “building management” while touting their wares as “instructional leaders” probably can’t manage all that well, anyway, from a people standpoint, which results in dissatisfaction that trickles down to the kids. 
Leaders might consider holding whole-school meetings each week during the school year to tell stories and articulate the message of what’s important, what’s to be valued.  If leaders are not telling the stories of the school and its heroes, someone else most assuredly will be.
Leaders might consider treating the adults who work for them individually and equitably, rather than equally. If leaders meet with push-back on this, it might be more telling of the trust (or lack thereof) that their staff members have in them, than of any perceived recalcitrance of bargaining unit representatives.
Leaders might consider that the organizational cultures within their schools may not be what they seem.  What leaders believe to be collaborative cultures, may in fact be contrived or at best, comfortable.  If reflection among adults is not at the edge of uncomfortability, then learning is not occurring.  Best to get a “second read” on culture from a trusted #2.
Leaders might consider that if we really want schools to be healthy places for teaching and learning, it’s all about adults FIRST, so that it can be about children MOST.  As I often share with K-12 leadership groups, consider how many times it is wise to put the oxygen mask on a child “first” in the event of an airplane’s cabin depressurization, or how many times it is good for couples to focus on children in their marriages “first,” before focusing on their relationships as couples.
Leaders might consider that it is ALL of the people in the organization that promote success.  Like a pit crew on a race track (with students as “drivers,” racing toward successful futures), ALL who influence lives, either directly or indirectly, are important.  How often do we thank the back-office business folks, transportation mechanics, or foodservice staff (both in and out of our buildings)?  This is important while leaders are wandering around, hopefully without their tablet devices.
Living the launch involves “continuing to live accordingly” as the school year sets in and moves through its annual cycle, keeping an eye on those things important as other things urgent challenge us.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is continually inspire by those leaders who put themselves out there each and every day to do thing right AND do the right thing on behalf of the folks they serve.  He would like to offer "thanks" to the leadership team of the Warsaw Community Schools, under the leadership of Dr. David Hoffert, for inspiring much of this week's content and hopes this contribution will be found relevant to all of us as we launch the 2015-2016 school year. Dr. Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at

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